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Harvard Engineering Updates?

EmptyNestSoon2EmptyNestSoon2 60 replies1 threads Junior Member
Hello. I am a parent who studied liberal arts, with a child interested in engineering, and I’m trying to learn about the engineering landscape both for my own curiosity and so that I might be able to offer advice. So hard-core engineers, please be kind/patient with me ;-)

My child is at Harvard, and is looking to major in Engineering (but not too late to switch to math, physics, Econ, etc). On CC, I see so many critical posts about H engineering, and I’d like to better understand the situation. I’m wondering if it’s truly as bad as people make it seem. I also wonder if people know how much H Engineering has been transforming, and if they are basing their opinions on outdated information? Maybe it does not matter even if H Eng is improving, if all the older people who do hiring don’t keep up to date on the current programs?

It is clear that Harvard is entirely overhauling engineering. In 2008, only 6-7% of students were engineers; now 20% are. About 5 years ago they added many ABET-accredited engineering specialties as majors; before that they mostly just had “Engineering Sciences” as a major (vs now EE, Material Sciences and Mechanical Eng., Environmental Science & Eng, Bioengineering, CS Eng, etc). For facilities, they are opening a brand new, $1 billion 535,000 sq ft engineering complex in 2020 that is hard to imagine won’t have absolutely phenomenal labs, equipment, etc. $1 billion is a lot of money!! In 2015, they hired a new dean of engineering away from UCSB who did his undergrad in Chem. Eng at Princeton, studied at Cambridge, received his PhD in chem. Eng at CalTech, taught at Purdue, etc before being a dean of engineering at UCSB. They have been on a huge engineering faculty hiring spree attracting great talent, and seem to have a disproportionate number of faculty elected to the National Academy of Sciences, etc. To me, all of this appears transformative, and while I don’t expect it to all of a sudden be considered better than MIT (!), it is hard to imagine that you can’t get a pretty great engineering education there if you are interested in one of the programs they offer.

As an added bonus, I would think there is something special about students who earn engineering degrees embedded in liberal arts universities. I personally think there is tremendous value to the mind-opening humanities courses, and am happy for his stellar general education courses and the fact that his friends study all different disciplines, and he’s not just spending time with fellow engineers. I personally like the well-rounded ness that comes with not being at a technical school. I do have a friend who does quite a bit of engineering hiring, and his perspective has always been that he favors Harvard engineers (and this even pre-dates the changes in this decade) for roles that ultimately will turn into opportunities to lead teams, create product concepts, etc as he feels they churn out big-picture thinkers, vs. very skilled technical people that might come out of other “better” programs, but who may not be able to step up into other roles. Yet of course I read on here that no one hires engineers from Harvard! So that worries me.

I’d love to hear that there are others besides my friend who appreciates the grounding in humanities that Harvard engineers get, in addition to their technical knowledge. Is there truth to that? I’m not looking to hear that Harvard is anywhere near #1 in engineering, clearly that is not the case. But should I discourage my child from pursuing engineering there? I see so much evidence that their program is completely on the rise, but there seems to be so much negative-feeling and writing against Harvard engineering, I’d appreciate some insight.

Thanks so much!
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Replies to: Harvard Engineering Updates?

  • GreymeerGreymeer 854 replies14 threads Member
    No one ever said H was not good for engineering. They are just, "Johnny come lately".

    They considered it beneath them, now they want to buy their way to the top since it's currently hot.

    The long-term truth is that Harvard engineering grad won't have it any better/worse than a StateU engineering grad.
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  • PrdMomto1PrdMomto1 248 replies5 threads Junior Member
    Your child is already at Harvard, majoring in something else, but wants to switch to Engineering, correct? I would certainly not discourage him if that's what he wants to do. As you know Harvard isn't ranked as high as some other schools in that field but it's still Harvard. A degree at Harvard is great and I would encourage my child to major in whatever interests him or her. Getting a degree is something else because it's "ranked higher" would be a mistake in my opinion.
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  • RichInPittRichInPitt 1629 replies25 threads Senior Member
    That’s a long post and I’m not clear on the question/request.

    No, Harvard’s not a top 5 engineering program as they are in some other areas. Yes, they are a top 20’ish engineering program that will no doubt provide a solid engineering education.

    For a student already enrolled and taking classes, who is thinking of changing to engineering, continuing where the student is probably makes at least as much sense as going through the long transfer process.
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  • Data10Data10 3245 replies11 threads Senior Member
    edited November 2019
    In 2008, only 6-7% of students were engineers; now 20% are.
    In the latest IPEDS/CollegeNavigator, only 4% of Harvard graduates majored in engineering fields. Only 7 graduates were in my field (electrical). I suspect the difference is you are counting all SEAS concentrators, which includes CS among other non-engineering fields, and counts students who switch out to a different major before graduation. CS enrollment has ~quintupled in the past decade, making CS Harvard's 2nd most popular concentration. CS and engineering are not equivalent and show very different characteristics.

    Being less popular does not mean it's bad. Many students prefer smaller majors, with typical smaller class sizes and more connections with professors. However, smaller can also mean limited classes to choose from, certain limited types of opportunities, etc. Traditionally the few Harvard engineering majors have had a high rate of working in non-engineering fields after graduation.

    I suspect the frequent negative reaction relates to other less selective colleges typically being considered stronger in engineering than Harvard, including multiple other colleges within the Ivy League. It's not that Harvard engineering is bad. It's that Harvard engineering is often not considered as strong as other colleges to which it is frequently compared. However, if you like Harvard engineering, go for it.
    edited November 2019
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  • colorado_momcolorado_mom 9134 replies80 threads Senior Member
    Being a Harvard grad probably opens a lot of doors, and as stated in original post there are some non-Engineering advantages. But from my reading here, it seems it does not have the same kind of value-add for engineers as other majors. State flagships likely have larger/better facilities and excellent job placement.
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 79732 replies714 threads Senior Member
    As an added bonus, I would think there is something special about students who earn engineering degrees embedded in liberal arts universities. I personally think there is tremendous value to the mind-opening humanities courses, and am happy for his stellar general education courses and the fact that his friends study all different disciplines, and he’s not just spending time with fellow engineers.

    All ABET-accredited engineering bachelor's degree programs require some general education course work (required by ABET), but the amount and nature of it varies by school. For example, MIT, Caltech, and Harvey Mudd have much heavier humanities and social studies requirements than Brown does.
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  • KLSDKLSD 265 replies4 threads Junior Member
    First, undergraduate engineering is very broad and your student may focus in a specific engineering discipline and possibly a concentration within that discipline. Compare curriculum across some other institutions. What professors or research labs are they interested in learning about? Do they plan to be an engineer, management consultant, entrepreneur, doctor, lawyer,

    With siblings at another Ivy, one is there to do more than engineering - research in the medical school and an entrepreneurial minor collaborative between business and engineering schools. Second is there because there are endless labs in his area of interest and he can complete his masters in that concentration with one additional semester. We attended 3 different engineering schools for undergrad and masters programs, so we started their searches with those types of institutions.

    Harvard was suggested as a PHD option for our senior when meeting with current professors. After further reading, she found numerous labs she would be delighted to work in. With so much VC money in Cambridge, it makes sense.

    Just ignore those that tell you students will not have time for more than engineering classes or overloading with other classes will not allow them to achieve. I’ve spent the last few years in and out of Harvard hospitals as a caregiver while parenting our 3 children. The brilliant doctors and scientists are multidimensional, wear many hats and quite honestly don’t seem to need much sleep.
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  • colorado_momcolorado_mom 9134 replies80 threads Senior Member
    "should I discourage my child from pursuing engineering there?" - He's already at Harvard (good job!). If he enjoys his engineering classes and Harvard is affordable, it seems like a good path. Also I suspect that engineering would give him the best prospects for a job with just BS degree, no grad school.
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  • Data10Data10 3245 replies11 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    Also I suspect that engineering would give him the best prospects for a job with just BS degree, no grad school.
    If by "best prospects", you mean highest salary, then CS is far above everything else. This relates to why CS has become Harvard's 2nd most popular major (after economics) in recent years.

    I listed first year earnings by major for Ivies in the thread at https://talk.collegeconfidential.com/college-search-selection/2164794-comparing-earnings-by-major-between-different-types-of-colleges.html#latest . A summary of the top 4 listed for Ivies are below. CS, Math, and Economics majors at Ivies all had far higher first year earnings that at T50 publics. However, Engineering majors at Ivies and T50 publics appeared to have nearly the same median first year earnings, even though Ivies are typically far more selective... students with a much higher average college GPA, higher test scores, more likely to want to go out of state for prestigious high salary job, etc. These effects are likely to be more prominent for Harvard than other Ivies due to effects of college name being more stronger for finance/IB and lack of engineering history being more noteworthy.

    1. Computer Science -- $110k (36% higher than T50 publics)
    2. Mathematics -- $82k (64% higher than T50 publics)
    3. Economics -- $74k (51% higher than T50 publics)
    4. Engineering (median of all subtypes) -- $70k (4% higher than T50 publics)
    edited December 2019
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  • privatebankerprivatebanker 5793 replies84 threads Senior Member
    edited December 2019
    I wouldn’t discourage my student from a discipline of their choice.

    Their career will span decades and after the first, very few people will really care where you went to college.

    It’s a long time and focus on where you will be productive. And hopefully happy and satisfied.

    Also, if they are a great engineer being a Harvard grad certainly won’t be a obstacle of any sort. The opposite.

    I also do not see the negativity about Harvard being post grad outcomes. It’s about engineering focus, facilities, classmates, number and quality of the staff for those still choosing. Your son is already there, not the issue discussed.
    edited December 2019
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  • colorado_momcolorado_mom 9134 replies80 threads Senior Member
    Oh sure, CS is also a good major to get a job without doing grad school. I was looking at this list fro Op- "but not too late to switch to math, physics, Econ, etc" .

    Admittedly I don't have much knowledge about Harvard grads/majors... I just meant that in general engineer grads tend to be employable w/o grad school as compared to science majors.
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  • Gator88NEGator88NE 6492 replies204 threads Senior Member
    Nothing "wrong" with Harvard engineering. It's a smaller program, but it has all of the advantages that being at Harvard brings.

    Selection of engineering major is still limited, and about 80% of "engineering" students are majoring in CS or applied math.

    Some actual data on Harvard's Engineering program:

    http://profiles.asee.org/profiles/8130/screen/20?school_name=Harvard+University
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  • foobar1foobar1 229 replies2 threads Junior Member
    Harvard on the resume should open some doors. At the graduate level in electrical engineering, Harvard is ranked #21 by US News. Some state schools are ranked higher and other state schools are ranked lower.

    In the past, Harvard didn't devote much resources to "vocational" majors at the undergraduate level like nursing, business or engineering.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 5054 replies22 threads Senior Member
    If your kid is already there then support his interest. Most engineering students upon graduation will get jobs regardless of having a BS or MS. . Having a degree from Harvard is not a negative. Companies that don't hire from Harvard still won't. Companies that do will continue to do so. Also it's usually about the second job also. After the first job it's more about ability, not where he graduated from.
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  • KnowsstuffKnowsstuff 5054 replies22 threads Senior Member
    So you had some comments in your other thread that need some responding to. A new building and faculty won't change the program overnight, 5-10 years from now, maybe. It's also about getting serious to build a culture. Many State engineering programs will simply have better faculty and facilities.

    You had some comment about leadership or leading a team. That all depends on what type of engineering you go into and the students desires. Many go into management and consulting such as Industrial engineering. (Not offered at Harvard)

    My sons at Michigan engineering can take any classes he wants to and minor in anything he wants to. He enjoys Greek/Roman mythology as much as learning python and R, Scrum.

    As stated in many threads, for the Ivys, Cornell /Princeton would be most people's first choices.

    Since your son's already there and if it has the engineering he wants to go into then great. The major disadvantage is the limited amount of classes /topics offered.

    Maybe your son should investigate what he wants to truly study and if Harvard can get him there.

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  • biganthonybiganthony 117 replies20 threads Junior Member
    edited December 2019
    Harvard engineering is likely better for leverage into the Wall Street/Finance world. Shows a solid technical/quant background. And in the wall street world, your degree name follows you for the rest of your life, as its whats used to evaluate your worth from what I've gathered.

    Industry is a different story. Harvard engineering likely gives you 0 leg-up neither any leg downs into applying into engineering industry. Industry cares more about experience than degree brand name and what you can do ability wise.
    edited December 2019
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  • foobar1foobar1 229 replies2 threads Junior Member
    The Harvard edge might be small in engineering but I wouldn't consider the value 0. Managers at Fortune 500 companies probably look with favor on Harvard graduates when recruiting. Maybe the HR professionals on CC can add some insight?
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  • ucbalumnusucbalumnus 79732 replies714 threads Senior Member
    foobar1 wrote: »
    The Harvard edge might be small in engineering but I wouldn't consider the value 0. Managers at Fortune 500 companies probably look with favor on Harvard graduates when recruiting. Maybe the HR professionals on CC can add some insight?

    Conventional wisdom is that Harvard graduates have a recruiting advantage for finance and consulting jobs. However, engineering jobs tend to be less focused on college prestige.
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  • EmptyNestSoon2EmptyNestSoon2 60 replies1 threads Junior Member
    Thanks everyone! Very helpful comments and information. I was having a little moment of panic when he was home over Thanksgiving and we were discussing these things (he just declared his concentration; he’s a sophomore). He absolutely should do what he wants. I just have pangs because he is a person who loves many subjects and he’s pretty much equally capable of these different topics. So while he always loved building and Science Olympiad and his STEM courses, etc and it’s easy to picture him in engineering, he also loves politics and current events and comedy and I can see him as a writer for a late night comedy show and other careers. My biases point me towards thinking that’s the more interesting way to go, but I’ve had a week to put my biases away ;-) and accept that he has made his choice, at least for now. I am making myself happy for him! But this thread was a great source of information and diversion for me this past week so I appreciate everyone’s input!!

    E.N.S.2

    PS I especially love all the data from Data10 and Gator88. And yes, Data10, I had mistakenly taken my info from an article that talked about the growth of the overall School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which does include CS and Applied Math majors. Whoops! But it will be interesting for me to follow their SEAS school over the next few years. As you noted, there were only 7 EE degrees awarded in 2017-2018, and there were zero just a few years earlier, when they didn’t even offer that degree. This past year, 2018-2019, they awarded 19 EE degrees, so change is occurring. I will be fascinated to see how it all pans out and also eager to check out the new facility in June. Perhaps I’ll post an update/information when the times comes. Thank you for pointing me in the right direction!
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